Heart of the Plan Ch. 01byMesmeri©
This is the sequel to Part of the Plan and Start of the Plan. I like to thank JHB for his help editing this story into a readable one.
Heart of the Plan
"Alright, let's move on to the next item for today's meeting," Vindicator said with a tired voice. The meeting hadn't even been a long one, just an hour and a half, but that was about an hour too long in the superhero's book. Still, as a senior member of the League, it was part of his duties to preside over these things from time to time. He looked the others at the table over, surveying the small gathering of superheroes and League bureaucrats that were running the organization that week. Most of them looked as bored as he felt, so with an effort he schooled his voice as he spoke up.
"The next item on the agenda is the case of Sparkler, the young superheroine who fell into Mesmeri's clutches a few months ago. Her treating doctor is here to give us an overview of her current status and her plans for Sparkler's future treatment as well as what she learned of Mesmeri's methods through this case. Let her in," he directed the station's computer.
The door slid open and the good doctor strode in. She was wearing a tasteful business outfit, but even that couldn't hide the fact that Doctor Bell was a very fine woman. Raven-dark hair streamed down her shoulders, but Vindicator's eyes focused a little lower than that. For a second, his vision was filled by the pillowy breasts of the psychiatrist before he caught himself and forced his eyes to meet hers.
'Come on, you old sod, keep your mind on the business at hand,' Vindicator berated himself. 'She's far too young for you and didn't I hear something about her divorcing a while back? So stop acting like a teenager and get this show on the road.'
"Good morning, Doctor Bell," he began after she sat down. "Why don't you start off by filling us in on how Sparkler got into this mess. Most of us weren't on the board when it happened, if I recall correctly, and I'm curious as to how Mesmeri got her claws into Sparkler myself. I thought we had resistance training for this sort of problem," he finished with a frown.
Victoria just nodded in ascent. She'd noticed where the attention of some of the board's members had drifted to when she first came in, but she'd gotten very good at dismissing the annoyance that caused. These days, Victoria just let people get distracted by her looks and got on with her job. If they couldn't keep up, then it was their loss.
Opening her briefcase, Doctor Bell took out the relevant case file and activated the holographic system. She would need that for this part of the presentation. "I'm afraid we don't have a lot of details on how Sparkler was captured, Mesmeri's methods left Sparkler's early memories of her captivity fragmented and confused. But we suspect it was during her vacation. It was the only time she could drop off our radar for the length of time it must have taken Mesmeri to break her."
"But how did she do it?" Colonel FSA prodded. "Break her, I mean. Like Vindicator said, the training we provided her should have offered Sparkler some protection against Mesmeri's regular methods."
"With this," Doctor Bell said as she pushed a button. A hologram appeared in the space between her table and the larger one the board sat behind. It showed a chip with something like tendrils or roots streaming out of it's thin sides. "We found this only after we did a very thorough scan of Sparkler's brain, it didn't show up in our first examination. As you can see it is far more advanced than any of the earlier models this supervillain used. Unfortunately, it self-destructed into a useless clump of plastic when we tried to remove it so we don't know exactly how it works."
"But you do have a general idea?" A woman to the right of America's Supersoldier asked. Her nameplate said she was Jana Allison, in charge of human resources.
Doctor Bell nodded in the affirmative. "From our scan we know the chip was connected to various regions of Sparkler's brain, like the auditory, visual and pleasure centers. This essentially bypassed her consciousness altogether, and I believe the chip did more than just relaying information. I believe it also regulated her mind, adding and removing information to tailor it more to Mesmeri's tastes."
Vindicator wasn't the only one that looked a little lost now, so Victoria clarified further. "The recording Restrainer found Sparkler listening to when she caught her was part of the setup. The chip allowed the words to bypass Sparkler's critical faculties, the ones that would have questioned what Mesmeri's voice was saying. There's no training or mental preparation against something like that. Sparkler had essentially been hardwired to obey, her very perception of the world around her regulated by Mesmeri's chip."
"But such a chip would not have been easily implanted, I'd imagine. So it had nothing to do with Sparkler's initial abduction," Vindicator prodded.
"No, I'm afraid we'll remain in the dark on that unless we capture Mesmeri herself. I have little hope that Sparkler's memories of that time will improve. But her progress overall has been excellent," Victoria told them with a pleased smile. "That's the weakness of the method Mesmeri chose."
"How so?" Jana Allison asked.
"Because the chip is the cornerstone of the programming, so without it the whole mental structure gets very soft. It was quite easy to puncture the mental fantasy and get Sparkler's critical faculties working again. During most of my time with her, I've actually been working with her on dealing with the emotional fall-out of being captured and brainwashed. In fact, I believe she's more than ready for the next phase of her treatment."
Vindicator raised an eyebrow at hearing that. "You really think she's ready to be reintroduced to civilian life? That is what you're talking about, isn't it?"
"Essentially, yes. Oh," she quickly went on before anybody could object. "She shouldn't be placed anywhere near Bay City and I would recommend roomming her with a League Member as well, both to increase Sparkler's sense of security and to keep an eye on her. But I think she needs to start feeling trusted again, before she'll really start to trust herself. To be frank, there isn't much more I can do for her while she remains on the station."
"What you mean to say, is that we should place her in Newtropolis. I know you have your practice there," Mrs. Allison said, rather pointedly.
Victoria just gave a rueful smile. "Guilty. I would appreciate it if neither of us had to commute much just for a session. And I also have someone in mind to be her roommate. Dawnstar has room and could use the company. She comes by my office from time to time already, so reporting in wouldn't break up her routine either."
"Dawnstar," Vindicator mused as he brought up a hologram of her file for all to see. "Let's see, hmmm, her powers would certainly be more than enough to deal with Mesmeri. I don't really see any problems with your proposal. Does anybody else?" He asked as he looked at the others.
A murmur of "no" accompanied by several headshakes answered the question. "In that case, you're authorized to proceed with Sparkler's treatment as you see fit, Doctor Bell. Thank you for keeping things concise, we won't take any more of your time."
Taking that as her dismissal, Victoria got up and put Emily's file back in her briefcase. "It was my pleasure. A good day to you all."
As the door closed behind her, she could just hear Vindicator bring up the next item. "Last item is that little scandal with the Green Parakeet. Now I personally don't care who's she's dating, but it seems the public ..." The door finally shut close, cutting off the rest.
Doctor Bell paid the words little heed though, her mind fully focused on the logistics of getting Sparkler released and settled in at Dawnstar's. But first, she had to get the superheroine's consent to take on a house guest. 'Best if I ask in person, so I'll just ask her to swing by my office.'
Flying over the city was always a treat to Dawnstar. It just looked so futuristic to her with its gleaming spires and towers of glass and solar panels. The cityscape didn't feature a single square or rectangular structure.
The building that housed Doctor Bell's office was a good example of that. It was a tall building with a twelve-sided base and some very big balconies. One of those balconies was her target. Many of Doctor Bell's patients were metahumans, and so her waiting room had two entrances: the traditional one from the hallway, and the other from the balcony. It's tiled floor featured a big logo of the League to clue newcomers in as to where they should land.
Setting down amidst the potted plants decorating the balcony, Dawnstar slid the door open and stepped through. The waiting room was the only one with clear glass, every other pane was reflective to prevent flying people from looking in. A more common occurrence than you would think given there weren't all that many superheroes and villains. But being able to fly or see better than an eagle didn't automatically mean you had to become one or the other, quite a few were just regular folk.
So Dawnstar already knew the waiting room was empty safe for the psychiatrist's personal assistant who was busy on the computer. "Hey, Kathy," she greeted the bubbly blonde as she looked up from her work. "Doctor Bell asked me to come by?"
The assistant smiled. "Hey, Dawn, yeah, she said something about expecting you to swing by today."
"But she didn't tell you what it's about?"
"Nope, but I got the impression she wanted to discuss something so you're not in trouble." The nineteen-year old waved her in. "Go on, she's not seeing anybody right now."
"Okay, thanks. Have a nice day."
"You too!" And the rattling of the keyboard started it up again.
Entering the actual office, Dawnstar reviewed what this could be about. She knew the Doctor and her assistant because she'd made use of the psychiatrist's services over the years and even more so these past few months. Her last break-up had hit her hard, not because she was so much in love, but because Luke had been yet another bad choice.
It had been like that right from her start as a crimefighter. Any new superhero could count on some publicity and female ones even more so. The combination of a uniform that didn't cover much and a buxom figure had helped, too. And that had attracted a certain type of guys—for a while, anyway.
But they quickly discovered the brunette wasn't cut out to be one of the great ones. Sure, she could fly and was invulnerable, but that was pretty much it. The super strength that usually went along with the invulnerability, was quite weak in her. With the strength of just seven men, Dawnstar or Dawn Sterner, was not the heavy hitter she appeared to be at first glance.
Even more embarrassing was the reason for the skimpiness of her uniform. It wasn't that she was very extroverted—her stammering at the few interviews she'd had back when she was young proved that. No, it was the same reasons she had a short cape. Her invulnerability didn't extend beyond her skin, so more than once she'd had to use the cape to cover a wardrobe malfunction.
Topping it off was her power source. Solar-powered sounded very green, but her body couldn't hold more than a few hours worth of power. So night patrols were out of the question, as were missions to outer-space. Limited to daytime patrols and League emergencies on the surface and having average looks meant she would never rise above a B-list superhero.
This was something Dawnstar had been perfectly happy with, but not her boyfriends. And even after that, she hadn't managed to land someone who could deal with what she considered a calling. Some would try, others wanted to change her, and a few had been sleazes.
Being a 34-year-old superheroine was stressful enough without the string of bad relationships. So after Luke, Dawn had suffered something of a breakdown wondering if the problem was her. Perhaps she wasn't cut out to be a superhero after all. 'But the doctor set me straight. Got to love the League's all-inclusive health coverage.'
Shaking her head to dislodge the wool she'd gathered, Dawnstar greeted the psychiatrist before sitting down and giving her an inquisitive look. "You said there was something you wanted to talk about in person, and according to Kathy it's not because I'm in some kind of trouble."
Victoria smiled reassuringly at the superheroine to cover the amusement she couldn't help but feel every time she saw Dawnstar's outfit. Even with its bright red and yellow stripes, and even knowing it was better armored than a Kevlar-vest, it still made Victoria think of a corset; even though it was about as respectable as a swimsuit.
The cape and boots did nothing to diminish that unprofessional impression, but Victoria was careful not to give any outward sign of her thoughts. "You're not; although, if you're worried that you might be, than is there, maybe, something I should know?" She asked with a raised eyebrow.
Dawnstar seemed to mull her response over for a moment before shaking her head in the negative. "No, can't think of a thing. I guess I was just really curious why you wanted to see me, since everything is going fine in my life."
Doctor Bell nodded. "And that's exactly the reason I want your help with one of my cases. You've heard of what happened to Sparkler?"
She didn't really need Dawnstar's nod, gossip alone would have ensured every superhero knew that Sparkler had been brainwashed by Mesmeri and had been caught impersonating that supervillain.
"Well, I'm treating her and for the next stage in her treatment I need someone to room with her to help Sparkler, first with adjusting to civilian life, and then with superheroing."
Victoria steepled her fingers as she leaned forward. "You would also have to keep an eye on her for any signs she might be slipping or relapsing. Now, I don't expect that to happen but that's what the protocol requires," she assured Dawnstar.
The superheroine still looked uncertain, but Victoria didn't press. "It's good to hear she's doing better," Dawn hedged. "I'm just not sure if I'm the right person... I have no training in psychology and, to be honest, I might be too trusting for this."
"Actually, you're perfect," Doctor Bell countered. "Sparkler doesn't need another vigilant guard; what she needs is a friend who won't judge her too harshly, someone who can listen and maybe impart some hard-earned wisdom. In my professional opinion, you would fit the bill perfectly."
Dawnstar didn't respond right away. Then it came out in a rush. "Alright, I'll do it."
Dawn Sterner's apartment
"Now remember, if anything happens just call Doctor Bell or League Dispatch. Whichever is appropriate, I should be back around noon," Dawnstar finished as she readjusted one of her boots.
Emily nodded along, but couldn't help her exasperated response. "I know, you've told me the same for five days now. Don't worry. I'll be fine. I'll even get the groceries today. I want to cook something special as a thank-you for all the trouble you've been through with me."
Dawnstar looked back up and smiled back at her. "You don't have to," she reassured Emily, "because you haven't been. It's actually been nice having you here."
It was Sparkler's turn to smile. "Thanks, but I still feel grateful, and it would make me feel less like a freeloader. It's not like I can put on my costume and help you patrol." Emily had tried to keep her tone light, but didn't succeed entirely.
The older woman straightened out and took a step towards Emily so she could lay a hand on her shoulder. "Hey now, you're making a fast recovery according to the doctor. I'm sure you'll be out there fighting bad guys in no time, but not before you're ready. It's way too dangerous for yourself and others if you go out there when you're not 100%."
"I know, it's just ... I guess that, now that I'm back on the planet, freedom is calling me. It's irrational and stupid, because I can feel that I'm not ready yet. I-I ... I sometimes worry I might never be ready," Emily finally admitted.
A gentle squeeze was Dawnstar's immediate response: "And I tell you there's no need to worry about that; trust me. I've been captured by supervillains a few times myself, and, the first time it happened, I doubted myself, too. I wondered if I was cut out for this life, or if it had all been a huge mistake on my part."
"How did you snap out of it?"
"I realized that having a bad day comes with the territory. There are going to be days where don't catch the criminal, when you can't save everybody, when the supervillain captures you," Dawnstar finished softly, causing Emily to look down. But they snapped back up at Dawn's next words. "And that won't ever stop sucking. But what decides if you can come back from adversity is determination, the will to keep coming back, to keep going. I think you have it; that's why you're here. Now, you just have to be sure about that fact yourself."
Silence fell in the apartment. Emily had no reply to that. Finally, she settled for simple grateful nod.
Dawnstar apparently felt no need to spoil the moment either, and simply stepped back, waved goodbye, and took off through the open window into the morning sky. Emily stood there for a moment, just watching the superheroine fly away, before looking around the room trying to decide how she should start the day.
Today was Thursday, so she didn't have an appointment with Doctor Bell. Those were on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Quite a lot, maybe, but on the station she'd seen the psychiatrist every day, so this was a sign of progress to Emily.
Her eyes caught sight of her laptop, and Emily decided checking her mail and the news would be best. Some of the clouds she'd just seen looked like they might bring rain any minute.
In moments the screen was lit and Emily was accessing her mailbox. Every time she did that she couldn't help but remember all the surveillance around her. Having her emails read and her phone-calls listened to was intrusive. So was the fact that Dawnstar was reporting to Doctor Bell about her.
Yet at the moment, Emily couldn't bring herself to get worked up about the almost-complete lack of privacy, because she knew the reason for all these measures was to make sure Mesmeri didn't try anything.
And given that Emily could still not remember how the supervillain had managed to capture her, having some people look out for her didn't sound so bad. She was done checking her mail in under a minute; even the spam was sparse this morning.
The weather-report spoke of showers, but all the rain clouds seemed to be passing south of Newtropolis, so Emily decided to take a few minutes to read the news.
SNN, or Super News Network, was her site of choice on that front. They paid special attention to the antics of not just supervillains, but superheroes as well. It made it half serious news network and half gossip rag, but that was fine by her. Emily could use some lighthearted stories about who was dating whom.
But the prominent headline wasn't about a superhero; it was about Mesmeri. Wide-eyed, Emily read about the discovery of one of her brainwashed victims on the staff of a member of Congress. She'd been found out when she'd tried to access classified information.
Emily's eyes wouldn't let go of the article, even as they shied away from the photo accompanying the article showing the woman being lead away by police. The look in her eyes was way too happy. Instead, her gaze was drawn to the article's title. 'Emily Salesburry Exposed as Mesmeri's Slave' was a little sensationalist and certainly tacky, yet Emily kept rereading it. There was something there...